When my wife and I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, I got to see one of my favorite paintings housed in the Hermitage Museum.
It’s Rembrandt’s famous painting Return of the Prodigal Son. It depicts that moving scene in Jesus’ parable when, “filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20), the father (God) ran toward his wayward son. The son had squandered his inheritance with loose living, but came begging for mercy. The father embraced him, saying, “My son was dead but now is alive, was lost but now he’s found” (see Luke 15:24). Jesus paints this beautiful, priceless picture in answer to the religious people’s complaint that he “welcomes sinners” (Luke 15:2). The painting is worth a fortune.
The Prodigal Sonc. 1669oil on canvas, 262 x 205 cm.The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Can you see the value?

Now just imagine if one day you visit St. Petersburg, and there in a back-alley dumpster you discover Rembrandt’s masterpiece, but it’s hardly recognizable. It’s covered in mud and dirt, it’s stained, and the canvas has been torn. You wouldn’t recognize it at all, except you notice the famous hand of the father on the ragged son’s back. How would you treat this painting? Would you treat it like trash? It’s covered in mud, stained and torn—is it worthless?

Do you treat it like it’s worthless? Or would you treat it like a million-dollar masterpiece that needs to be handled with care and restored? I’m guessing all of us could see past the mud and even the damage to recognize the immense value inherent in this one-of-a-kind work of art—simply because it was created by Rembrandt’s own hand. We wouldn’t try to clean it up ourselves; we would bring it to a master, who could delicately restore it to its original condition.

How do you treat God’s Masterpieces?

So why do we struggle to treat people like the immensely valuable, one-of-a-kind Masterpiece God created with his own hand? As I study the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained, muddied people, it becomes evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all the people he encountered. Jesus could see past the mud to the Masterpiece God wanted to restore. What do you see when you encounter others? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see the mud? Or do you see the Masterpiece God wants to restore?

What is your focus?

What you focus on determines who you become and the impact you have on people around you! That’s the heart of this book. The Pharisees primarily focused on the mud of sin that coveredvthe lives of the irreligious. They prided themselves in mud-avoidance. They fixated on mud. They tried to clean the mud off others with their own dirt—it didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now! Jesus was different. Jesus demonstrated a spiritual vision that he wants to impart to us—to see the Masterpiece he sees in us, and to renovate us to become people whose hearts reflect what God sees, under even the muddiest sin-stained life. Jesus saw God’s Masterpiece, waiting to be revealed by his grace, and as a result, many people actually became what he envisioned them to be.

The Artwork of Grace

That’s what God’s grace is all about! God’s grace cleanses and restores all willing people! We may trust in God’s grace, but do we live in it? Do we exude grace to others? And how do we show grace like Jesus did to mud-stained Masterpieces? Paul explains what God’s grace did through Jesus: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7, italics mine

Notice what this says—we were all dead spiritually. Muddied, damaged, sin-stained paintings thrown in the dumpster. None
of us brought ourselves back to life spiritually, nor can we clean ourselves up and restore ourselves into what God intended without God’s help. But by his grace—his undeserved favor, good will, loving-kindness offered freely—we can be restored! And notice the words describing God’s heart—he has great love for you, me, and everyone, he has abundant grace to give, demonstrated through his kindness, and he is rich in mercy. As we will see, love, kindness, and mercy flowed liberally from Jesus’ life, but the Pharisees’ well was dry when it came to mercy. Paul continues: God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8–10 nlt, italics mine

The word translated “masterpiece” or “workmanship” is the Greek word poiema—from which we get the word “poem.” It’s
a Work of Art—the work of a Master Artist. Do you realize you are God’s Masterpiece, his Work of Art? Next time someone says
“Wow—you’re a piece of work,” just say, “That’s right, I am!—Artwork, buddy!”

God wants his Masterpieces to be restored

“By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8). A person living in Jesus’ time would hear the Greek word sodzo, translated “saved,” and think of being carried to safety, made whole, or restored—restored to the original condition. God saves us—he restores us into right-relatedness with himself, he makes us secure by adopting us as his own children, and he begins a lifelong process to restore the original Work of Art he imagined before we were born! In fact, God sees it already completed. He already sees us raised with Christ seated with him (see Ephesians 2:6).

Grace tells you that all God needs is your faith—giving yourself in trust back to your Creator, giving him permission to renovate and restore and bring to life his Masterpiece in you! That’s true for all human beings (John 12:32). God pictures you as someone more awesome and wonderful than your imagination has ever dreamed. Do you see yourself like God does—as a living Work of Art he’s wanting to restore to its full value? Do you see others that way? What you see matters!